In the 2010 oscar-winning thriller Black Swan, dancer Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman, quickly unravels her flawless choreography in one simple yet relatable statement: “I just want to be perfect,” she says, gazing emotionlessly at the camera. In our cultural lexicon, ballet dancers embody both discipline and passion, a duality that’s being explored in 2023 as we seek to address the tension between the demands of living an optimize-everything lifestyle and a desire to embrace the more fluid power of intuition. It’s an ongoing conversation that’s informing the fashion world, bringing a sense of whimsy to clothing this spring. 

Fashion’s flirtation with ballet has a long history, with the iconic classic ballerina having served as a muse for at least 100 years. Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which debuted in 1909, is largely credited with influencing the pioneering creators of modern fashion—including Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli—in the 1920s and ’30s, when they started referencing the ballet through dance signatures like full skirting, tulle fabric and dreamy colour palettes. Later on, Christian Dior was mentored by French artist Christian Bérard, a costume designer for Ballets Russes; his influence is apparent in Dior’s groundbreaking 1947 New Look collection, which revolutionized modern fashion with its cinched waists and full A-line skirts. Over the decades, everyone from Jean Paul Gaultier to Viktor & Rolf—and even the late Dame Vivienne Westwood—has borrowed from the iconography of ballet, with results ranging from pretty to punk. The aesthetic is even influencing contemporary shapewear—consider Kim Kardashian’s blockbuster line Skims, which takes many of its aesthetic cues from the 73-year-old Austrian hosiery- and bodysuit-maker Wolford.

Dubbed “balletcore” on TikTok, this new viral trend exaggerates the fantasy of ballet dancers through leotards, tutus, tulle, wrap sweaters and ballet flats in an ethereal, dreamlike colour palette. Ballet’s current influence on the fashion industry first jetéd onto the runway with Miu Miu’s fall/winter 2022/2023 collection presentation, where Miuccia Prada’s models wore satin ballerina flats featuring a dainty bow and a logoed elastic band. The brand has since released versions of the footwear style in metallic finishes and with crystal embellishment. No strangers to the aesthetic, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy—who created the costumes for Black Swan—presented their fall/winter 2022/2023 collection via a ballet-inspired lookbook that featured celebrity friends of the house (including Charli XCX, Natasha Lyonne and more) in a palette of powdery pinks and blues. It’s a vibe that has found its way into the brand’s spring season too, with the designers releasing a collection of dance-inspired looks that channel the decadence of disco.


On the spring/summer 2023 runways, the references to ballet were even more overt and intentional, like at MM6 Maison Margiela, where the design team took inspiration from dancers’ rehearsalwear to create a collection filled with bodysuits, delicate spaghetti-strapped tanks and pretty pink tights. At Acne Studios, a pastel parade of delicate tulle and distressed knits promenaded down the runway, while Victoria Beckham layered a gold tutu-like skirt made of tassels over a cream stocking bodysuit. In a similar vein, Simone Rocha presented designs featuring layers of pink and white tulle to an effect that the Irish designer described as “harnessing an emotion that felt like this kind of powerful, feminine statement.” And Molly Goddard, one of fashion’s longest proponents of tulle, trotted out her signature layered confections in a series of saturated acid greens, yellows and purples this season before closing her show with a voluminous white bridal number. Known for ballet-inspired detailing like bows and rosette hair ties, New York’s Sandy Liang introduced pointe-shoe Mary Janes at her spring presentation, a since-sold-out style that was reportedly two years in the making.

Ballet offers a timeless aesthetic for creative marketer and art director Katie Merchant, who has worked with the likes of Glossier and Marimekko and runs the Instagram account @thankyou_ok. And it’s an aesthetic that is regularly referenced across other art forms, including visual arts and film. Merchant notes its presence in iconic movies, like 1983’s The Big Chill, in the opening scene of which Meg Tilly’s character is wearing a pink-and-white-striped leotard with cream tights, The Red Shoes, in which Moira Shearer wears blue hair ribbons and red pointe shoes, and Center Stage, with its ballerinas’ on- and off-duty wardrobes. “Thinking of the red shoes also makes me think of artist Mark Adams’ watercolour Toe Shoes, which depicts a pair of red toe shoes en pointe against an icy-blue box,” says Merchant.

Over the decades, everyone from Jean Paul Gaultier to Viktor & Rolf—and even the late Dame Vivienne Westwood—has borrowed from the iconography of ballet, with results ranging from pretty to punk.

With its traditionally feminine and romantic overtones, the ballet aesthetic fits in nicely with Merchant’s signature personal style. “Although it can change based on my mood, I am usually drawn to more feminine styles, fantasy and romanticism,” says Merchant of her wardrobe, which includes a pair of white frilly Comme des Garçons bloomers. “I also have a tulle Molly Goddard skirt that I haven’t worn outside yet but is dreamy for styling over tights,” she adds, noting that she loves the look of crisp white tights with black ballet flats. She also points to dance-inspired basics like cotton bodysuits by Toronto-based Bully Boy Lingerie as well as leg warmers. “I have a plain black pair and a fun extra-long argyle set by Italian designer Simona Vanth.”

Channelling the look may be most easily done via the humble ballet flat, which was spotted at the aforementioned Miu Miu, Simone Rocha and Sandy Liang as well as Tod’s and Sunnei. Those who lived through the so-called “indie sleaze” era of the early aughts will feel the nostalgic pull of ballet flats, which were an off-duty staple of the decade’s It-girl style stars Amy Winehouse, Alexa Chung and Sienna Miller. But unlike the revival of decade-specific trends, balletcore has the power to trigger feelings of nostalgia and lend a beauty that transcends age. How’s that for perfect? 

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